From North Miami to Coral Gables to West Miami-Dade, a stupendous exhibition, a glittering museum expansion, and the sparkling-new Frost Art Museum show signs that South Florida continues flexing its cultural muscle beyond Basel.
At the Museum of Contemporary Art, Anri Sala hijacks the language of cinema and video to create disorienting dreamscapes that gnaw at the senses like acid eating through cheap cement.
Featuring seven films dating from the late Nineties to the present, the impressive exhibition marks the Albanian artist's first major U.S. museum show.
"Anri Sala: Purchase Not by Moonlight" also includes photographs and sculptures that explore a dialogue about the interplay of space and time.
The show was co-organized by MoCA and the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), Cincinnati, where it will travel to next May.
Sala has also included several drums specially fabricated for each exhibition. Synched with particular films, the drumsticks respond to the low-frequency rhythm of the films' soundtracks, providing a furtive link between musical instruments and the sound component of a specific narrative.
"He deals with themes of music, language, and time passing from a unique, sensitive perspective that is both political and emotional," says CAC's Raphaela Platow, who curated the show. "The installation at MoCA addresses issues of rupture as the films play on a timer."
Explains Platow: "Sala has created an environment in which the visitor's focus is directed toward specific films that engage in a particular dialogue with each other, with the space, and the experience of the viewer. The lighting of the space and the drums follow the same sequence the artist has developed for the screenings. As some of the films end, they completely disappear and different films in other areas of the museum begin. The orientation of the installation is constantly changing, causing viewers to reorient themselves within the space as various films end and begin."
Many of the works mine the artist's interest in films that create their own soundtracks and addle the skull with a sense of disconnect.
In Mixed Behavior, a DJ appears on the roof of a building in Sala's native Tirana as fireworks pepper the sky and sheets of rain drench him on New Year's Eve. Sala blurs the line between the music and the pyrotechnics, hinting at the relationships between festive celebrations and acts of war.
Set in a parking lot under a blazing blue sky, Air Cushioned Ride depicts a car weaving between and around trucks at what appears to by a highway rest area out West. As the car makes its rounds, its radio skips from classic chamber music to country tunes. The film is ripe with aural textures that howl like a tumbleweed windswept across the plains.
Another film that deploys a soulful backdrop is Long Sorrow, which begins with a fuzzy object dangling from the window of an apartment building while improvisational jazz sweetens the air. Once the camera zooms in, it becomes clear the object is a musician wailing on a sax outside the window, seemingly floating in space.
Sala's films are like jangled poetry in motion, at times both moving and banal yet hewing to the intriguingly ambiguous. They share an incantatory quality and a casual lyricism resulting from what often appear to be accidental conjunctions between music and imagery. Organizers explain that these films work together as a unified installation that might be considered one artwork.
"Anri Sala has created works like no other dealing with the tremendous political and social changes in his home country, Albania, since the communist system toppled," Platow says. "He returns to his own roots without nostalgia but finds the spaces and moments that open up the possibility of freedom and change."
Across town at the University of Miami's Lowe Art Museum, the Myrna and Sheldon Palley Pavilion for Contemporary Glass and Studio Arts represents the museum's first expansion in 12 years.
The Miami philanthropists donated their $3 million collection of more than 300 glass artworks amassed over the past 30 years.
The donation spans the glass art movement from the Seventies to the current day and features works by 53 artists including Daniel Clayman, Dante Marioni, Stanislav Libensky, and Dale Chihuly.
The Lowe is exhibiting an ongoing show featuring a rotation of works from the Palley Collection in its new light-filled 3,500-square-foot pavilion designed by Coral Gables-based architect Ronald Mateu.
"Glass is an art form that is alive. It reflects and feeds off the environment, especially light. Glass is not flat, like a painting or a piece of sculpture," Myrna Palley observes. "It's got light within. As I always say: It would be a dismal world if everything was black-and-white."
An excess of dazzling light and that new museum smell were magnified exponentially during the eagerly anticipated opening of the spectacular new Frost Art Museum at Florida International University last month.
It marked the debut of Miami's first new museum in a decade and was embraced with critical acclaim and public fanfare.
Designed by Yann Weymouth, the 46,000-square-foot building is a work of art that features 10,000-square-feet of gallery space, a soaring atrium, a floating stairwell, and a sparkling Chinese granite façade.
The concave edifice is bathed within by natural light filtered through skylights in many of its galleries. The ceilings are covered with fiberglass petals that keep ultraviolet rays from damaging the art.
The Frost is currently housing six exhibitions, including "Modern Masters from the Smithsonian," which features 43 key paintings and sculptures by 31 of the most celebrated artists who came to maturity in the Fifties and examines the complex and varied nature of American abstract art in the mid-20th Century. Artists in the show include Franz Kline, Michael Goldberg, Josef Albers, Louise Nevelson, Romare Bearden, Larry Rivers, Jim Dine, and others.
The Frost is also showing "Intersections," by New York-based Cuban artist Florencio Gelabert, who addresses issues of humankind's relationship with the natural world and our role in the depletion of natural resources. Gelabert combines sophisticated technologies with basic materials such as wood, glass, and metal to create complex three-dimensional works that address the perils facing the environment.
A poignant homecoming of sorts at the Frost is "Full Circle," by local artist Andrew Reach, who has played a role in the museum's rebirth. Reach was an architect working on the new building when a crippling spinal disease ended his career.
While recovering, he fought against the pain by refocusing his creativity on art. Reach couldn't paint because of physical limitations, so he turned to the computer and began creating large-format digital images fueled by his passion for Jackson Pollock and Larry Rivers along with Islamic art and African patterns.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Reach has come to roost in a breathtaking structure he helped design and make worthy of inspirational talent.
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